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A Semester of ESL

I always knew that teaching would creep back into my life more fully once I graduated school, but I can’t say I anticipated teaching ESL, especially high school ESL. Now that the essays are graded and the grades are turned in, I have to admit that I’m sad my Monday afternoons won’t be filled with this group of kids.

Since this was their first year at the school, they all were required to take my class and many of them weren’t all that pleased to be there, but as we talked about my time in Germany, what prepositions to use for dates and times, we began to form an international community where it was safe to ask questions about noise makers (honestly, the noise maker that was in our room for test takers was something none of my 8 students had ever seen) and verb tenses and the definition of words.

When we talked about traditions, my European students were shocked to find out their Chinese classmates didn’t celebrate Christmas, nor did they have a break at this time of year from school. As they discovered this, they also discovered that all of the strange questions and comments they had received as outsiders or foreign exchange students had helped them understand not to assume anything about someone’s culture or experience, but rather to ask questions.

When we talked about what can be considered rude to teachers and not making the basketball team or the cheerleading squad, my hope is that they found a place that was a little less stressful and a little more like home because I remember how it feels to be an outsider and be the foreigner making the mistakes grammatically and culturally.

And maybe one day, they’ll be teaching a similar class in their home countries and offer the same for a class full of students.

Substitute Teaching

As school has started back, I’ve had the great opportunity to be in the classroom again as a substitute teacher. It is certainly a different kind of teaching experience because you are walking in cold not knowing students names, the material, or the social dynamics going on in the classroom. It’s a phenomenon that students certainly try to capitalize on as August notes in the book Wonder:

This wouldn’t have happened is Ms. Petosa had been there, of course, but there was a substitute teacher that day, and subs never really know what’s going on.

But for me, it’s an interesting puzzle. It certainly keeps me on my feet and keeps my teaching brain alive and well!

Afterschool Tutoring

I’ve started volunteering in an afterschool program. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to at first because I knew it would be even harder than teaching kids in high poverty. 

You only get one chance a week. Only a couple of hours. 

I knew I’d get attached immediately to their faces and their spirits. 

I was right. 

We read and we played and we joked and we learned. 

Yeah, this is what learning can be…


For the teacher and the student. 

It can actually happen.

Sometimes I wonder

If any of my students have kept those black composition books that we used as writer’s notebooks. 

I wonder if they run across them in their rooms or closets or under their beds and remember our class community. 

I wonder if they remember that for that little bit of time they were writers and dreamers. 

I wonder…

Experiencing Remembering

I learned early on when I began to blog with students that if you allow too much time to pass between the experience (whether that’s reading, a guest speaker, a field trip) and writing about the experience, then students’ writing becomes stagnant and lifeless.

To truly capture their voices, students need time during the experience to write.

This allows them not only to practice using writing as a means of processing, but also allows them to hold onto the memory of the experience.

So, if you’ve hit that place in students blogs where you feel like students’ voices aren’t coming through, look at when you are asking them to write in comparison to when the actual experience they are writing about occurred. It might be as simple as timing!

Shhh Listen

Maybe working with students isn’t about what we want:

Yet many teachers are not comfortable with their student’s media: they don’t listen to the same genre of music; they don’t play video games; they don’t watch the same TV shows or movies which appeal to their students. But they should. Allow me to elaborate.

When I would pick up my son from high school, my Smooth Jazz music was playing from the radio station I listened to in the car. He would invariably hit the button to go to the rock station. I would switch it back. This was constant. Until one day, I got the idea to try to listen to his music. So that’s what I did: he got into the car and his station was playing and it was playing a song from the 70’s that was remade for his generation. To top it all off, I was singing the lyrics. He was astonished that I knew the lyrics to “his” song.  Thus a door to communication had been opened.

Drop your expectations and listen to what students are saying.

I’ll teach connections

Maybe Common Core isn’t targeting what students need at all.

The modern workplace and lifestyle demand that students balance cognitive, personal and interpersonal abilities, but current education policy discussions have not defined those abilities well, according to a special report released this afternoon by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science in Washington.

You keep teaching skills, I’ll teach connections: to people, to the world and to other resources.

Shying Away

I couldn’t get past reading the first paragraph:

The core of the changes are new, tougher national grade-level standards, adopted by Arizona in June 2010. They revamp what skills students must learn and when they learn it to match their peers across the country. Arizona students must take the new national reading and math exams that measure those skills in spring 2015.

Who are Arizona students’ peers? Are the students their same age? Students of the same SES? Students with the same family situation?

Can you really compare students based on skills with peers across the country or are we just shying away from the real work of developing meaningful relationships with students?